Step 1 for Out of Control Finances – Disconnect the Autopilot!

I started my private pilot’s license in my 30’s at a small air park north of my home. The thing I loved about learning to fly was, from the start, the student is the one doing the flying. Yes, there is an instructor right beside you in the early stages, but you’re the one in the “right seat”. Guided by the instructor, the student takes the controls and works through a list of skills needed to pilot a plane: take-offs, landings, level flight, turns, stall and spin recovery, etc. etc. To earn a pilot’s wings, the student must ultimately demonstrate his/her proficiency in each of these areas with a flight examiner.
Even though the small planes I flew had a basic autopilot system, learning how to use it wasn’t part of the curriculum. To include it would have defeated the principles being taught i.e. basic aircraft control. A plane knows how to fly itself straight and level but a junior pilot does not. When learning to fly it’s all about the student giving the plane his/her direct attention.


Sadly, autopilot systems have led to many air disasters. Not necessarily because they failed, but because they were misunderstood or used improperly. In times of severe stress, the autopilot can actually lead to cockpit confusion. The lesson from this is that autopilot systems are not a replacement for human intelligence.

The same holds true with money clarity.

I’m often asked if I can recommend a helpful money app. My answer is always the same. No. There are some very creative and interesting apps available. Some are even available for free! If a free app was the solution to our money ills, financial contentment would be the norm in our households. Of course, that’s far from the case. In a May 2017 New York Times article Household Debt Makes a Comeback, it was reported that, in the 1st quarter of 2017, household debt in America surpassed its Q3 2008 level i.e. the beginning of the great recession.

Two-years prior, in a 2015 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, it was found that worries about debt repayment were the leading cause of money stress for Americans. Apparently, even though debt stresses us out, it doesn’t stop us from ramping up the borrowing. A free app isn’t likely to solve this problem. So, what will?

In my experience, people whose money lives are on “autopilot” have out of control spending, stress-inducing debts and deficient savings. My recommendation has nothing to do with an app. It is just the opposite actually – it’s to be like a student pilot and pay attention!

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes attention is an act of connection. When it comes to managing household finances, this observation is right on the money (pun intended). My coaching clients bring attention to, and build connection with, their money lives by learning to think in new ways, by learning new skills and by taking new actions.

So, if you’re struggling with managing money, take my word for it – you can’t outsource money clarity to an app. Instead, direct your attention to learning the basic skills of money management. Then, if you still feel you need an app, go for it. My bet is, you won’t!